No. 7 seed Incarnate Word travels to No. 3 seed North Dakota State for a Friday night FCS semifinal game.
What does UIW need to do to knock off the defending national champions? Here are five keys for a victory.
RELATED: 5 Keys For An NDSU Victory
DL Holds Up For All 4 Quarters
We’ve seen it often, a defense holding its own for a half against NDSU’s rushing offense. But then the dam starts to leak in the third quarter, and then it breaks in the fourth quarter. Not only will UIW’s starters across the defensive line need a big day, but the backups will need to supply quality snaps too. Playing the same guys for the majority of the game is not a good recipe.
UIW allows 155.4 rushing yards per game, which is 55th in the FCS, including 333 yards last week at Sac State. NDSU rushes for 269.1 yards per game, which is 3rd in the FCS. But a Samford defense that didn’t rank well statistically held up against the run better than expected in the quarterfinals. Can UIW do the same, but for all four quarters? That is the No. 1 key in this game. Chris Whittaker (9.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks) will need to be disruptive on the edge, Olivier Charles-Pierre (6-foot-1, 375 pounds) needs to plug the middle, and standout LB Kelechi Anyalebechi (112 tackles) needs to be active.
Win 50/50 Balls
UIW will stretch a defense with go-routes, double moves, and 50/50 balls on deep shots. Darion Chafin (63 catches, 1,211 yards, 17 TDs) can go up and get it at 6-foot-3. Taylor Grimes is 5-foot-11, but he’s great at hauling in contested catches as well with 76 receptions for 1,144 yards and 15 TDs.
Lindsey Scott Jr. gives his WRs a chance to make plays, and they will have to against talented NDSU cornerbacks who help the Bison rank No. 4 in passing yards allowed per game (160.1).
RELATED: NDSU vs. UIW Tale of the Tape
Run The Ball Effectively
Much is (deservedly) made about Scott and UIW’s passing attack. But the Cardinals are also superb rushing the ball, ranking 15th with 211.8 rushing YPG. Scott was a 1,000-yard rusher at Nicholls, and while he’s been allowed to show off his arm more in UIW’s system, he can still tuck it and go and has 632 yards and nine scores on the ground. Plus, RB Marcus Cooper has been fantastic with 1,324 yards and 12 TDs.
UIW will spread NDSU’s defense out. If the Cardinals can get chunk yardage on the ground, it will keep the Bison defense off-balanced, especially as the UIW goes up-tempo, and open up throwing windows in the process as the LBs are trying to read run or pass.
Lindsey Scott Jr. Plays Like A Star
Scott should win the Walter Payton Award as the best FCS offensive player. He is completing 71.57% of his passes for 4,404 yards, 59 TDs, and six interceptions, plus rushing for 632 yards and nine scores. While some may be thinking Cole Kelley vs. JMU or Jeremiah Briscoe vs. JMU/NDSU, Scott looks to be on another level and more dynamic. He torched a quality Sac State defense last week.
The seventh-year senior won’t get shaken by the Fargodome noise or an NDSU d-line that is getting more disruptive. He’s going to have to deliver accurate balls against a good secondary. And most importantly, he’ll need to do some damage with his legs. Mobile quarterbacks have given NDSU trouble, so Scott will have to maneuver in the pocket, extend plays, and pick up big yardage on the ground on design runs or when things break down.
Pressure Cam Miller
Samford not only did an admirable job containing NDSU’s rushing attack in the first half, but they also brought the heat on Miller. He had guys in his face or coming off the edge on play-action looks that take longer to develop. But NDSU adjusted, and Miller finished 15/18 for 194 yards and one TD.
If UIW can’t stop the run, it won’t matter. But if the Cardinals can contain the rushing attack and force NDSU to pass, making Miller, who is No. 14 in FCS passing efficiency (Scott is No. 1), uncomfortable will throw the entire offense out of rhythm.